Navigating AI skills: How organizations hire the right people to leverage generative AI


Generative artificial intelligence has emerged as a key technology to boost productivity for companies, showing remarkable growth and immense future prospects. But its rapid expansion means leaders across industries now find themselves in dire need of experienced talent to develop and guide its evolution.

As a result, opportunities for generative AI–fueled productivity are being put on hold because of the gap in skills required to execute on them.

A recent survey from McKinsey & Co. reveals that talent shortages for the relevant skills dramatically constrain generative AI innovation. There are half as many qualified practitioners of the most sought-after skills than are needed to bring these capabilities into the mainstream.

A few months ago, companies were merely trying to uncover the realities of generative AI, conducting small experiments to determine how their businesses could benefit from its implementation. But now, one-third of companies are using AI in their operations—and half are increasing their AI investment mainly to deploy some form of generative AI in business functions such as marketing and sales, product and service development, and service operations.

To remain competitive in this fast-changing environment, forward-thinking leaders must prepare and develop new hiring strategies—or risk falling behind. Falling behind, for a trend that promises to automate 30% of hours currently worked across the U.S., could very well translate into substantial losses in efficiency, financial performance, and overall relevance in the industry. 

Outsmarting skill scarcity

The challenge is simple yet daunting—how can leaders set generative AI in motion despite the skill scarcity that will continue to affect the jobs market for the foreseeable future? The answer: hire from firms who have the AI talent ready to go. I’ve seen numerous companies kick-start their generative AI efforts by making smaller investments via consultants or outside expertise that drive progress for the organization while the business continues its normal operations.

Hiring experts from a firm that offers rapid access to a global pool of AI experts is a proven strategy for getting generative AI initiatives off the ground. This approach provides businesses with the specialized skills needed for each unique AI challenge, allowing them to leverage generative AI’s potential beyond geographical constraints and without the delays of conventional recruitment.

Crafting a future-proof AI strategy

Leaders should start by researching which skills are needed internally for the AI projects and focus their talent searches based on those requirements. The characteristics of a specific initiative will determine if the best option is a long-term engagement or a project-by-project approach.

Leaders from organizations that have worked with Toptal—a network of freelance software developers, designers, finance experts, product managers, and project managers—emphasize the importance of experimentation in mastering AI. They’ve found that embracing a hands-on approach allows for swift integration, keeping pace with AI’s rapid development and bolstering company growth. Small-scale experiments such as automating routine reports and data sorting or integrating ChatGPT in creative tasks not only foster AI familiarity and competency within the company but also prepare the groundwork for tackling more complex challenges down the line.

Experimentation should be strategic, however, concentrating on challenges that generative AI can effectively tackle. By pinpointing specific problems suited to generative AI solutions, companies can streamline their focus, enabling the creation of customized workshops centered on these areas.

I’ve observed firsthand how large organizations enhance their success by conducting AI workshops for their staff. These sessions are pivotal in showing employees the practical ways generative AI can streamline their tasks, boosting efficiency across the board. It’s this combination of experimentation and education that truly empowers a workforce to leverage AI to its fullest potential.

Generative AI presents an unprecedented opportunity for growth, innovation, and efficiency. But its potential can only be fully realized when the right talent steers its course. As the demand for AI skills outstrips supply, acquiring this talent is key. Those who can execute on their generative AI strategies successfully will win big in their respective markets.

Taso Du Val is CEO of Toptal. Toptal is a partner of the Fortune CEO Initiative.

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